Alabama politics is increasingly reflective of what we’ve seen at the national level for decades. While politics used to be dominated by the charismatic and the colorful, such local color has been bred out of politics as the television and internet age seems to favor the cautious and bland over the brash and bold. Gone are the Big Jims and the Fightin’ Judges and instead we’re left with…well you know. That is not to say that the quality of elected official has declined, but somewhere along the line the entertainment value has certainly nose-dived.
Lea Fite was a throwback to an earlier era. While not a fiery orator or a good-time Charlie, he was as much at home in one of the grocery stores he owned or in a small-town coffee shop, as he was on the floor of the State House. His hair was more likely to be tousled than blow-dried, and his shirt stained than dry cleaned. But his energy was boundless and he was as persistent as anyone when he felt strongly on an issue.
Fite was always a Democrat, but worked often with Republicans. His approach to the legislative process was so bipartisan that Republicans often asked him to consider switching parties. Fite never did but he gave Democrats plenty of heartburn, as they knew that party politics was way down the list of his concerns.
The Anniston Star recently chronicled Fite’s successful efforts to close a loophole that unfairly denied Medicaid coverage to some Alabama women with cancer. It’s fitting that one of his final legislative acts was to stand up for those who were playing by the rules but were shortchanged by the system.
The next legislator from District 40 will no doubt have earned the right to represent Calhoun County, and will hopefully carry on much of Fite’s legacy. But no matter what happens to his seat, Fite’s brand of service is unfortunately more and more endangered with every passing year. Fite at heart was a citizen-representative – a man who succeeded in both his professional and political endeavors and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with those he represented. Not as their member in Montgomery, but as one of them.